Last week, I asked if readers wanted locations to be 100% authentic or not. Eight people answered the poll, including Dan Antion, who answered in the comments (there’s always one, i’n’t there?).
Half of the respondents said they wanted everything to be 100% invented! A quarter of them said they wanted things to be kinda-sorta authentic, and one said to make it authentic for the time it was written, even if things have changed.
Dan wants everything to be exactly, currently true. If we were having a beer, I’d buy him another one and pat him gently on the arm.
So what about location? The obvious choices:
Make it all up
Imagine a town. Invent the shops, layout, suburbs, inhabitants. Draw maps. Most traditional fantasy authors and science fiction authors do this, although I’m told some have taken this or that ancient or medieval city as a model.
Pretend you made it all up
Take a real town — in whatever place or whatever time period — and change all the names and swap around the locations of things.
Play with reality
Take an actual town, use its name, its actual layout, its landmark businesses, but add or subtract or otherwise fiddle with stuff for the purpose of your story. People who are familiar with the location may resent your taking liberties. Just sayin’.
Just the facts, ma’am
If you can’t research the location directly (Why, yes, Mr. IRS man, that 10-day cruise to the Bahamas was a business expense; why do you ask?), you can use maps, Google Earth, local gov/business/blogger websites to get close to your setting. Chances are, you can find folks on social media who live in your target location who will be glad to give you local color.
Is that last one okay? Can I use realio, trulio places in my fiction?
Miss Stephanie, on the terrific site Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, says yes.
And there’s another possibility that goes along with all the others:
In the front of the book, tell the reader why you chose the location you did, why you made any changes you made, apologize for tweaks or errors, explain that you used a version of the location you knew in your youth or that you wish were the case (no toll bridges in Louisville, for instance). Me, I love to read authors’ ‘splanations.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Look in your favorite book. What are its primary settings? How do the settings work with the characters and plot? If somebody forced the author to change a setting, how would that affect the book?